When my wife and I stopped in for a late Saturday morning breakfast recently at the State Farmers Market Restaurant (1240 Farmers Market Drive; 755-1550; www.ncsfmr.com), my hunger was tempered with more than a little wariness. It was the first time I'd been back to the restaurant since it reopened in March after closing for three months for renovations and repairs. Too often in the past, I'd seen successful restaurants overdo the "renovations" part, losing the spirit of what had made them successful in the first place. Would the Farmers' Market make that mistake, I wondered?
The first change I noticed -- a large, umbrella-shaded patio that had been added to one end of the building -- was attractive but not particularly reassuring. In my experience, al fresco dining at a down-home Southern restaurant means a picnic table or the tailgate of a pickup truck. My fears of a fancy new decor and a "Southern bistro" brunch menu grew.
Once inside, though, I began to relax. Turns out most of the changes were structural: plumbing and wiring repairs, new bathrooms, and a new kitchen. The dining room looks a little brighter now, but otherwise remains more or less unchanged. The panoramic mural of a farm scene painted high on one wall still sets the mood in the large, open dining room. The waiters, bless 'em, still wear overalls.
Most important of all, a plastic squeeze bottle of molasses still sits on each table. As soon as I spotted those bottles, I knew that I needn't have worried about the Farmers Market losing its direction.
Sure enough, it wasn't long before I was squeezing that molasses onto the same big fluffy biscuits I've eaten here numerous times before, and tucking into a plate of sunny side up eggs and country ham -- with grits and redeye gravy, of course, which they don't make with coffee, as far as I can tell, but is mighty fine nonetheless. It's so good, in fact, that my Michigan native wife wouldn't think of breakfast here without grits and redeye gravy.
The only thing either of us could fault was her sausage patties, which were lukewarm by the time they got to the table. Which brings me to one more thing that hasn't changed about the State Farmers' Restaurant: It gets really busy around midmorning on a weekend, and the wait staff can get overwhelmed. If you want to avoid the rush, you can plan on arriving as early as 6 a.m. any day of the week but Sunday, when the restaurant opens at 8 a.m. -- farmers' hours, you might say.
Or you can arrive late, as late as 3 p.m. any day. Just don't call it brunch.